Inside the battle for the soul of The Wall Street Journal

There's a showdown between the editor in chief and the publisher.

This is something different from my last post, but hope you’ll come along for the ride.

The Wall Street Journal is a great paper — as a media reporter for The New York Times, I read it often. It’s competitive and pugilistic and its reporters love to dig. The prose can come across a touch ponderous and stodgy, but there’s often a clean, limpid style to the writing that’s easy to digest. Usually.

When Rupert Murdoch, the now 90-year-old media titan, acquired the paper in 2007, everyone flinched. People in the newsroom were on tenterhooks, worried he’d destroy its culture. That didn’t happen. He expanded its coverage to compete more directly with The Times and spruced up its arts and lifestyle section. (He also added a third page to Op-Ed, effectively expanding opinion space by 50 percent, but that’s another story.)

The paper is different under Murdoch but not by yards. It’s more of a chimera, part punchy tabloid, part old-school Journal, but mostly it’s The Journal you sort of know. That is, if you’re a subscriber, which I suspect you are not. It’s often Murdoch’s first read of the day.

There’s a joke passed around the office that goes like this: "The No. 1 reason we lose subscribers is they die." Unsurprisingly, most of its readers are older, white men, and the second-largest group are retirees. The math isn’t difficult. There will come a point when it hits a ceiling of readers.

People at The Journal, including Murdoch, know that. A few years ago a special innovation team was brought in to help remake the paper. It has not gone well. A power struggle between the editor in chief and the publisher has led to a stalemate.

Not pretty. You can read the story here.